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Turtle Rehabilitation

  • Wednesday 5th September 2012

Turtle Release

Sea turtles didn't just survive the K-T extinction, they aced it. The turtles rode out the apocalyptic meteor strike that killed off the dinosaurs-and 90 per cent of life on Earth-65 million years ago by doing what they've always done: taking things slowly.

Planet-pulverising asteroids they can deal with; plastic bags, however, might just be their undoing.

It seems a supermarket bag wafting in the current is, to a sea turtle, a dead ringer for a jellyfish, one of their favourite foods. Once inside, the bag impacts the digestive tract until the animal starves-unless it has the good fortune to end up in the care of Andrew Christie.

Curator of Kelly Tarlton's, Christie tends an increasing number of sick and injured turtles. Some are full of plastic bags, fishing lines and other flotsam, while others have been run over by boats or snagged on fish hooks.

Others arrive exhausted, diseased, dehydrated, shocked by New Zealand winter waters, or
otherwise 'compromised'. They can take months to recover; some have taken two years. They need blood tests, antibiotics and intravenous drips, incubators, and specialised food. "When we get them, they're pretty damn sick,"says Christie.

Once, he might have tended six injured turtles a year, but last year he had 21 patients, including greens, a hawksbill and an olive ridley turtle found at Houhora in the Far North. "As waters warm," he says, "and the ocean becomes a less healthy environment, we get more and more." So far this year, 12 turtles have ended up at Kelly Tarlton's and Andrew has helped nurse each and every one.